If one of the goals of public art is to provoke discussion, then the new mural towering over Dewey Square is a success. The seven-story image, painted recently by the Brazilian artists Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, depicts a barefoot child in pajamas with a shirt wrapped around his head, gazing back out at viewers with an enigmatic stare.
It’s a bold addition to the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, but to some the boy’s headgear is too suggestive of a Mideast terrorist. The mural, erected in conjunction with a display of the brothers’ work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, is slated to come down in November of next year, but critics want it removed now.
That would be going too far. The twin brothers, who collectively go by the name Os Gemeos (Portuguese for twins), routinely draw masked characters. In this case, they have not said what the boy in the Boston mural is supposed to represent, and have asked viewers to figure that out for themselves. “We don’t really want to explain the meaning of this,” one brother told the Boston Phoenix. “We let people imagine things.”
Indeed, the varying reactions to the painting are holding up a mirror to our sensitivities and anxieties. Regardless of what the brothers may have intended the boy to represent, the mural has become a Rorschach test and conversation starter. In that sense, it’s public art that has performed a public service.